Dear Ambassador Moustapha:
As you may know, I am Jerusalem bureau chief for WorldNetDaily.com, one of the most popular news sites on the Internet, and am currently and unexpectedly staying in Amman, Jordan, where I am co-hosting ABC Radio’s The John Batchelor Show after I was denied a journalist visa from your embassy in Jordan yesterday while the host of the show was approved.
My colleagues and I have been told by Syrian officials that my visa may have been rejected because I am Jewish. One official in your embassy reportedly suggested I should not apply for a visa because my Jewish faith was a problem.
I am hereby resubmitting directly to you a request for a journalist visa to immediately enter and report from Syria. I am also asking that you join The Batchelor Show tonight to explain to the audience why my visa was rejected. You had agreed to join the show last night at 10:20 p.m. EST, but several attempts by the studios in New York to reach you at that time were unsuccessful. I personally tried to call the number you provided at that time as well.
To briefly outline the facts:
A request was recently submitted to your offices for approval for myself, Mr. John Batchelor and Batchelor’s producer Lee Mason to broadcast Batchelor’s show from Damascus for two days this week.
Ms. Mason immediately called your offices and discussed the initial request with Ammar al-Arsan, the press attach? in your embassy. Upon hearing my name, Mason says al-Arson told her it would “be better” if I didn’t apply for a visa. Mason asked if it was because I am Jewish, and says al-Arsan replied: “Yes, it is.”
I was personally told Monday by phone and in a separate voicemail left for me by al-Arson that all three visas – for myself, Batchelor and Mason – had been approved. I double checked with al-Arson that I had indeed been approved for a visa. He told me I had been, and said the Syrian embassy in Jordan – our intended point of entry into your country – would grant us visas upon arrival.
Based on this pledge, we arrived at the Syrian embassy in Amman yesterday afternoon and were informed by Dr. Eyad Alarfi, assistant to the Ambassador here, that the Foreign Ministry in Damascus decided to approve journalist visas for Batchelor and Mason, but that I was rejected. Dr. Alarfi said he did not know why I had not been approved.
I immediately called an official at the Ministry of Information in Damascus who declined to provide his name. At first he refused to suggest why I had been singled out and prevented from entering the country. Later in the conversation, however, he asked: “What religion are you?” I refused to answer. He replied, “You know what you are.”
I also had a conversation with an official in the Amman embassy who asked that I withhold his name. He told me that my “Jewish sounding name” could be a problem. He also suggested perhaps it is because I am a Jerusalem-based correspondent. (I am entirely American. I have been reporting from Jerusalem for the past seven months). I pointed out to him that other non-Jewish Jerusalem-based correspondents, including Fox News Channel’s Jennifer Griffin, have recently been granted visas by Syria.
Batchelor and Mason both decided to leave the embassy here without their visas.
Instead of traveling to Damascus, as planned, we broadcast last night from Jordan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Mr. Ambassador, an objective look at the facts seem to indicate my journalist visa was rejected because of my Jewish faith and my “Jewish sounding name.” I certainly hope this is not the case. I hope this is all one big misunderstanding.
I am a bureau chief for a well-known media agency with a very large audience, and regularly travel throughout the world. I am granted visas and press credentials without incident. I was told by al-Arson yesterday visa applications do not inquire about religion, so, he explained, my Jewish faith cannot be the issue. However, Mr. Ambassador, question six of the visa application I was asked to fill out asks for my religion.
Please respond to my request for a journalist visa application within 24 hours. Please also let me know if you are willing to be re-scheduled as a guest for tonight’s Batchelor Show. Available time slots are 11:35 p.m. EST or a prerecording earlier, at 8:00 p.m. EST.
The best way to reach me is on a Washington number … . If you leave a message, I will get it here immediately and can reply.
I look forward to hearing from you.